The junkyard presents two articles about the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya episode Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody.
The view from 5930 miles away:
I’ve learnt a lot about Japanese culture and traditions from watching anime, and consider it a big bonus of watching some of the creative output of another country. Maybe if more people took the trouble to broaden their horizons beyond their own country’s film and television we would all understand each other just that little bit better, and there might be less xenophobia in the world. If you didn’t know about Tanabata, it crops up in plenty of anime series, and this week it’s Haruhi’s Tanabata episode.
This provides the origins of the title of the episode, Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody, because a custom of Tanabata is writing wishes on tanzaku, small pieces of paper which you hang on bamboo. As Haruhi mentions, these wishes are made to the gods Orihime and Hitoboshi, represented in the night sky by Vega and Altair. Ever the literal thinker, Haruhi works out the distance it will take the wishes to travel to those stars, and sets the SOS Brigade the task of writing wishes that will be appropriate to 16 or 25 years into their future. For anyone who wasn’t a quick enough reader, or couldn’t be bothered to pause the DVD, here are the wishes in full. First, gentle-natured Mikuru has domestic concerns, and phrases them in a gentle way:
I hope to get better at sewing.
I hope to get better at cooking.
As we would expect from Nagato, she doesn’t waste words:
Koizumi says his are “a little ordinary”, and he’s not wrong. At times he can be a difficult character to like as it is impossible to get a rise out of him and he comes across as a little smug. As expected, his wishes are boring and a little bit irritating:
My family’s well-being
It makes you wonder if he’s trying to make an impression. Can Koizumi’s word’s ever be trusted, and taken at face value? Do we ever see the real Koizumi? Kyon’s wishes are what we would probably expect from a teenage boy looking to the future, with just a touch of weirdness:
Give me a house with a yard big enough to wash a dog in.
It’s not just the slight weirdness, but also the demanding nature of the wishes that indicates that Haruhi’s behaviour is perhaps rubbing off on him a bit. As for her own wishes (or demands), the first is predictable for Haruhi, and the second is a gloriously bizarre bit of Haruhi nonsense:
Make the world revolve around me
I want the rotation of the earth to go in the opposite direction.
After that bit of fun, we’re into the main plot of this timey wimey episode, with Kyon being taken back into the past, meeting the older Asahina again, and meeting the younger Haruhi for the first time. This is where some of the references from previous episodes come to fruition, such as the “quod scribbles incident”, and Haruhi thinking she recognises Kyon in the first episode. We are also setting things up for the Disappearance arc, with Kyon identifying himself by a fake name (John Smith).
Some clever things happen here too. Have a look at this conversation between the kid Haruhi and Kyon:
“So do you think aliens are real or not?”
“I guess they are.”
“And time travellers?”
“I wouldn’t doubt those either.”
“How about ESPers?”
“I’m sure they’re lurking around every corner.”
“What about sliders.”
“I haven’t met any of those guys yet.”
Note how when we meet Haruhi she is looking for aliens, time travellers and ESPers, but doesn’t mention sliders. Kyon influences her strongly, and paradoxically that’s based on what he knows of her future. Similarly, Haruhi is inspired to go to North High by Kyon being there, but more importantly him mentioning another girl there who shares Haruhi’s beliefs. Of course, that girl is Haruhi herself. What might Haruhi’s life have been like if this encounter with Kyon had never happened?
Then we have another demonstration of Nagato’s abilities, when she freezes time for Kyon and Asahina for three years, and the strange thought that they were present in her flat when they visited before, and finally we see Haruhi in a thoughtful mood:
“I remembered something about Tanabata from three years ago.”
This opens up all kinds of questions about the nature of Haruhi and Kyon’s relationship. Just how much does she remember? Was she first drawn to him because of this memory (another paradox)? The encounter was clearly a key moment in her life.
And finally we have some new end credits. I mentioned before about the jumbled episode order on first broadcast, to give the series a more dramatic ending with the sixth episode consecutively. To confuse matters further, the second series went back and filled in some of the chapters of the manga that hadn’t been made for the first series, so when we watch the episodes consecutively we are going to jump back and forth between the series one openings and endings, and the series two openings and endings. We haven’t seen the new opening yet, but the ending is a bit on the psychedelic side, accompanied by another great tune from the Japanese voice artists: Tomare! Nothing will challenge the fun of the season one ending theme though, Hare Hare Yukai, and that gloriously odd dance from the members of the SOS Brigade. A full version of their dance can normally be found on YouTube if you’re interested. Seeing my son trying to perfect their dance moves as a toddler was great entertainment.
Haruhi is a fun series. But it’s also thought provoking and tinged with moments of sadness. This episode there was the quiet little revelation that Nagato was in “standby mode” for three years, waiting in her empty apartment.
“It is my role.”
Every so often, Haruhi reminds us that our “role” in life can be a tough path to follow, and Kyon is finding out that part of his path seems to be oddly pre-destined. RP
Our thoughts and prayers are with Kyoto Animation, who suffered an arson attack this week, sadly resulting in many fatalities. They are the studio behind Haruhi, along with many other wonderful anime series and films, including Clannad, Hyouka, Sound! Euphonium, K-On!, Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions and A Silent Voice. To think that such creative people, who have brought so much joy to so many people around the world, could be targetted in such a cruel way is horrifying. We wish for a speedy recovery for the survivors of this terrible tragedy.
The view from 6,868 miles away:
What a weird series. Episodes 1-6 all follow the series title pattern The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya. Get to episode 7, and we get The Bordeom of Haruhi Suzimiya. Now episode 8 deviates totally with Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody! What?? I thought this would be a slog based on the title. Then Kyon starts talking about his mood: “My usually chipper mood was wandering around Brazil”. Ok, this would be a funny one. Haruhi wants everyone to put their wishes on paper for the celebration of Tanabata, and everyone has something different. Some are nice (world peace) while others are more comedic (I want the world to revolve around me). As Haruhi states, “It’s apples and oranges!” Hilarious. Ok, I can live with another comedy episode if I have to, but I’d rather story…
Then Haruhi starts talking about Time Travel. And the episode becomes a time travel delight!
Mikuru takes Kyon back in time by three years, then promptly becomes narcoleptic. Her future self appears, they talk, then Kyon has to carry the younger, narcoleptic Mikuru to the Yuki of three years ago. In the process, he spots a 3-year-younger Haruhi. She is unfazed by the fact that Kyon is carrying a girl around with him and only uses the fact to threaten him into helping her. He then becomes responsible for the weird glyphs found on the ground which was first mentioned in episode 1. He then sits on the steps to answer some of Haruhi’s questions and mentions that he goes to North High, which looks like it was the prompt for Haruhi going there 3 years later. Damn and blast, that’s good writing. Eventually, Kyon gets the sleeping beauty to Yuki’s house where Yuki puts them in suspended animation for 3 years so they wake up right after they left. This leads Kyon to realize that when he first visited Yuki, his older self was in the other room!
Man alive! I love time travel. Have I mentioned that in the last 2 years since starting this blog? When time travel is done right, I get hungry for more. This is where most series fail though. You know, you want more like you want more chocolate-chocolate-chip ice cream, and the waiter brings you pistachio for the second batch. (As much as I loved the recent Avengers: Endgame, it was not for the time travel elements, which I felt were flawed. My favorite time travel movies were the ones that got it right and ended up giving me that double scoop of magnificent right off the bat!)
I don’t know what episode 9 holds because my current self is not in my own future yet, but I’m heading there now. Let’s hope we keep the momentum going… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Mysterique Sign
Broadening my horizon beyond Hollywood SF began (aside from Doctor Who of course) with the 1985 post-apocalyptic mystery/drama The Quiet Earth. It was a New Zealand classic which won all eight of its New Zealand Film Award nominations including Best Picture. One reviewer said it was the best SF film of the 80s, even in the wake of ET, Blade Runner and all the film sequels of Star Trek and Star Wars which indeed says a lot.
I can be very open about how easily some films and/or their reviews can reshape my consensus for proper-quality SF or any other genre classics. As for Anime, I adored it for how it could work without being as flamboyant as Disney or Pixar. So Anime reminds us that the distinction in our entertainment, certainly with the most groundbreaking films, counts for a great deal. I’m forever grateful for Anime’s reminder and I pray that even after the recent tragedy, Anime will survive as many entertainment areas have survived tragedies. ☮️
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